The mythical conflict of science and Scripture (2)

[this is a sample of text from the book “Living on the edge” by Jonathan Burke]

The mythical conflict of science & Scripture (2)

Dismissal of the myth that science and Christianity have traditionally been at war, has led to over-correction by some writers who have gone too far in the opposite direction.[1] [2]

Two particularly influential writers claiming Christianity was uniquely influential on the birth of modern science, are Stanley Jaki[3], and Rodney Stark.[4] Building on the earlier work of Robert Merton,[5] who suggested that 17th century Protestant (particularly Puritan), values created an environment in which scientific inquiry was promoted sigfnificantly (known as the ‘Merton Thesis’), Jaki and Stark make the claim that the modern Western scientific tradition benefited specifically from contributions exclusive to Christianity.

The Merton Thesis is still a matter of academic debate,[6] but it is generally recognized by historians of science that Christianity made a significant positive contribution to the development of the Western scientific tradition.[7] [8] [9]

Nevertheless, it is also generally agreed that the development of modern science was not due to Christianity alone.[10] Christians who contributed to science benefited from earlier intellectual traditions inherited from the Greeks, as well as from scientific knowledge and experimentation carried out by Muslim and Jewish investigators,[11] and typically made mention of this in their own writings, citing their sources.


[1] ‘It is, in fact, so easy a target that scholars reacting against it have constructed a revised view that has also been driven to excess.’, Brooke, ‘Science and Religion: Some historical perspectives’, p. 42 (1991).

[2] ‘Zeal for the triumph of either science or religion in the present could lure historians into Whiggish history. The works not only of Draper and White, but also of Hooykaas and Jaki fell into that category. Kenneth Thibodeau’s review in Isis of Jaki’s Science and Creation, for example, declared it “a lop-sided picture of the history of science” that “minimizes” the accomplishments of non-Christian cultures and “exaggerates” those of Christian ones (Thibodeau 1976, 112). In a review in Archives Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences, William Wallace found Hooykaas’s Religion and the Rise of Modern Sciences to be “case of special pleading.” In their historiographical introduction to the book they edited, God and Nature (1986), David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers judged that Hooykaas and Jaki had “sacrificed careful history for scarcely concealed apologetics” (Lindberg and Numbers 1986, 5). Likewise some historians found Moore’s nonviolent history unacceptable: He “sometimes seems to be writing like an apologist for some view of Christianity” (La Vergata 1985, 950), criticized Antonella La Vergata in his contribution to The Darwinian Heritage (1985).’, Wilson, ‘The Historiography of Science and Religion’, in Ferngren (ed.),  ‘Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction’, p. 21 (2002).

[3] Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’ (1978).

[4] Stark, ‘For the Glory of God: how monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery’ (2003).

[5] Merton, ‘Science, Technology and Society in 17th-Century England’ (1938); unlike later writers, Merton did not believe that the Puritan ethic, or Christianity itself, was essential for the successful development of modern science.

[6] ‘Scholars still debate what Merton got right and what he got wrong, and in the intervening years they have drawn a far more detailed portrait of the varied nature of the religious impetus to study nature.’, Efron, ‘Myth 9: That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science’, in Numbers (ed.), ‘Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion’, p. 10 (2010).

[7] ‘Although they disagree about nuances, today almost all historians agree that Christianity (Catholicism as well as Protestantism) moved many early- modern intellectuals to study nature systematically.4 Historians have also found that notions borrowed from Christian belief found their ways into scientific discourse, with glorious results; the very notion that nature is lawful, some scholars argue, was borrowed from Christian theology.’, ibid., pp. 80-81.

[8] ‘Historians have also found that changing Christian approaches to interpreting the Bible affected the way nature was studied in crucial ways. For example, Reformation leaders disparaged allegorical readings of Scripture, counselling their congregations to read Holy Writ literally. This approach to the Bible led some scholars to change the way they studied nature, no longer seeking the allegorical meaning of plants and animals and instead seeking what they took to be a more straightforward description of the material world.’, ibid., p. 81.

[9] ‘Finally, historians have observed that Christian churches were for a crucial millennium leading patrons of natural philosophy and science, in that they supported theorizing, experimentation, observation, exploration, documentation, and publication.’, ibid., p. 81.

[10] ‘For all these reasons, one cannot recount the history of modern science without acknowledging the crucial importance of Christianity. But this does not mean that Christianity and Christianity alone produced modern science, any more than observing that the history of modern art cannot be retold without acknowledging Picasso means that Picasso created modern art. There is simply more to the story than that.’, ibid., p. 82.

[11] ‘These men and their contemporaries all knew what some today have forgotten, that Christian astronomers (and other students of nature) owe a great debt to their Greek forebears. This was not the only debt outstanding for Christian philosophers of nature. They had also benefited directly and indirectly from Muslim and, to a lesser degree, Jewish philosophers of nature who used Arabic to describe their investigations.’, ibid., p. 83.


Find Part 1: The mythical conflict of science and Scripture (1)

Introduction: Where is the edge

&: Living on the edge


Picture of Father Stanley L. Jaki

Picture of Father Stanley L. Jaki (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • No Faith in Science (
    A common tactic of those who claim that science and religion are compatible is to argue that science, like religion, rests on faith: faith in the accuracy of what we observe, in the laws of nature, or in the value of reason. Daniel Sarewitz, director of a science policy center at Arizona State University and an occasional Slate contributor, wrote this about the Higgs boson in the pages of Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals: “For those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.”
  • Jerry Coyne’s Twisted History of Science and Religion (
    In his latest post on the topic, he promotes the false belief that there is a fundamental conflict between science and religion, and he even makes the wild (and admittedly unproven) claim “that had there been no Christianity, if after the fall of Rome atheism had pervaded the Western world, science would have developed earlier and be far more advanced than it is now.” (For some thoughts on that theory, see this post.)
  • Did Christianity (and other religions) promote the rise of science? (
    The claims are diverse, but all give religion—especially Christianity—credit for science.  Religion is said to either encourage thinking (read Aquinas), impel people to do science as a way of unravelling God’s plan, lead to the idea of scientific laws (viz. Davies and Plantinga, above), or “encourage” science in some nebulous ways (this “encouragement” often seems to mean only “did not impede science.”)

    Now these claims are bogus, but if you read various histories of science, you’ll see conflict on this issue.  I’ll put my own objections below, but you should also read Richard Carrier’s 2010 article, “Christianity was not responsible for modern science.” Pp. 396-419 in J. W. Loftus, ed. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Prometheus Books (that’s a book well worth reading, by the way.)

    Here are some of my responses to the “science came from Christianity” canard

  • A response to Bill Nye (
    Nye forgets where a lot of things came from which was the study of natural law.  Science came from religion.  Many theories like the big bang theory come directly from religion, but religion was not used as the proof.  Most of sociology comes from a religious core.  Physics has theories that border on pantheism.  You wont here this from Nye because all religion is bad.We do agree on a few things though.  I do not think religion should be taught as science.  Likewise I don’t think science should ever be philosophy or religion.  Its one thing to put in a history book or even an astronomy book the origin of the big bang theory but we shouldn’t use it as a proof of the theory.
  • Science and Religion… (
    The fact of the matter is that science and faith complement each other, and there is no conflict between true science and true religion. Together they give the best foundation for wholesome faith and courage for daily living. When Galileo, the father of modern science, discovered that the earth revolved, instead of the sun moving around the earth, certain religious leaders were greatly disturbed, for they held another theory. But eventually they were reconciled.
  • Reason Illuminates Faith (in the Middle Ages) (
    What do the Middle Ages and scientific ideas have to do with each other? Quite a bit more than you might think. Unlike the thoughts brought to mind by words like the “Dark Ages,” the medieval period was not a totally backwards time of ignorance and superstition (though as in any era, both were present!), but one of intellectual formation that proved critically necessary for modern science to develop.
  • Both science and religion have a place under the sun (
    When we discuss the relevance of science and religion, it will be misleading to look at it through the “either-or” prism. Among scientists, there are many who are religious and similarly among the religious, there are many who have a scientific frame of mind. Far from being founded on the fear of the unknown, true religion is founded on the faith in the grace of the unknowable.

    It is easy to define religion opportunistically and then decry it. If we associate terrorists with religion, as Prof. Natarajan has done, religion becomes nefarious. If we understand religion as an enquiry into the ultimate purpose of life and equate it with spirituality, the merits of religion will become manifest.
    Prof. Natarajan has tried to understand why humans invented the concept of God and denounced it by quoting Albert Einstein. It has been a universal practice cutting across all religions to describe what we don’t understand (essentially what is called ‘mysterious’) as acts of God. Einstein was appreciative of this phenomenon and that is why he said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science” and “Science without Religion is lame; Religion without Science is blind”.

  • Science, Religion, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (
    Last night Joshua and I attended a lecture by the Rev. Prof. David Wilkinson entitled “Science, Religion, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life.”  He holds a PhD in theoretical astrophysics, a PhD in systematic theology, and he is a Methodist Minister.  He is one who is well equipped to engaged the questions posed by some today: “What will Christianity do if or when we do make contact with alien life forms?”  Some have said that it will be the end of faith as we know it.  Some Christians have welcomed it as proof of an omnipotent God.  Additionally, there are a million questions in between.
  • No Faith in Science (
    A common tactic of those who claim that science and religion are compatible is to argue that science, like religion, rests on faith: faith in the accuracy of what we observe, in the laws of nature, or in the value of reason. Daniel Sarewitz, director of a science policy center at Arizona State University and an occasional Slate contributor, wrote this about the Higgs boson in the pages of Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals: “For those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.”
  • No Faith in Science (
    What about the public and other scientists’ respect for authority? Isn’t that a kind of faith? Not really. When Richard Dawkins talks or writes about evolution, or Lisa Randall about physics, scientists in other fields—and the public—have confidence that they’re right. But that, too, is based on the doubt and criticism inherent in science (but not religion): the understanding that their expertise has been continuously vetted by other biologists or physicists. In contrast, a priest’s claims about God are no more demonstrable than anyone else’s. We know no more now about the divine than we did 1,000 years ago.

12 thoughts on “The mythical conflict of science and Scripture (2)

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